Slacker Friday

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We've got a new Think Again column here called "Catch-22 Revisited: The Bush Administration and the Public's 'Right to Know.' " It was written in honor of Sunshine Week and is a follow-up to the one we did a couple of months ago, here. Oh, and here is a Web interview I did with the author Andrew Keen about the new book, which, you might have heard, is called Why We're Liberals.

Here's the tour schedule:

Friday, March 14, 6 p.m.
Temple Israel
Park Avenue
New York, NY

Tuesday, March 18, 2:30 p.m.
Take Back America conference
Washington, DC (signing only)

Tuesday, March 18, 6:30 p.m.
Borders, 18th and L streets
Washington, DC

Wednesday, March 19, 7 p.m.
Politics & Prose
Washington, DC

Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m.
Ethical Culture Society (Sponsored by Left Bank Books)
St. Louis, MO

Monday, March 24, noon
The Leonard Lopate Show
WNYC (New York)

Monday, March 24, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway
New York, NY

Tuesday, March 25, 7 p.m.
Cody's
Berkeley, CA

Wednesday, March 26, 12:30 p.m.
Stacey's Bookstore
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Saturday, March 29
Talk/reception in a private home; email below for details
Seattle, WA

Monday, March 31, 11:30 p.m. ET
The Colbert Report
Comedy Central

Thursday, April 10, 7:45 p.m.
Scarsdale Public Library
Scarsdale, NY

Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, April 30
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Yes, he said, I think it can be very easily done/Put some bleachers up in the sun and have it out on Highway 61."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Ghosts Of Mississippi" (Joey Gilmore) -- Once again, I have neglected to develop the technology by which I can command all the lighthouses on the Eastern seaboard to blink in unison a coded expression of how much I love New Orleans. (And, yes, I am sorry for somehow moving Jazz fest up a couple of months last week. Chalk it up to love.)

Short Takes:

Part The First: I believe that Eliot Spitzer's political career is over because nobody in their right mind would ever shake hands with the guy again.

Part The Second: KO, you know I love you madly, but Countdown's turning into a gooey Obamafest every night. (Crank up the Special Comment Enola Gay for worthier topics. And, I mean, honestly. HRC and David Duke? Even obliquely? Wowser.) It's not a lot different journalistically from the way Fox fluffed Rudy! back in the day, albeit funnier. Helm hard over, sir, come about.

Part The Third: Serious religio-pundits like Amy (Of The Cross) Sullivan and the Reverend Dr. Meacham at Newsweek spend an awful lot of time suggesting that we heathen liberals get to know towering spiritual figures like Reverend Rod Parsley because his church hath many parking spaces and, lo, they are always filled. Thank you, no.

Part The Fourth: Example No. 205 why it's still important to read Wayne Barrett.

Part The Last: The best four weeks in sports -- America's World Cup -- begin Sunday, and the annual financial reversals begin in earnest hereabouts. Again, my loyalties lie with Alma Mammy, despite the ongoing atrocity that is the candy-assed nickname and, as is the case with any thinking human being, with Anybody Who Plays Duke. Extra props this year to The Landlord's school, which is dancing for the first time since God was a boy. The Royal Palm, one supposes, is rocking as hard as Jim Hegarty's on Wells Avenue in Milwaukee is. Good on all of ya.

That story this week about how the war in Iraq has fallen off the general radar is almost incomprehensibly sad, and not merely because it advantages The Saintly Straight-Talkin' Maverick Dude, which it does. It's sad because it's of a piece with the whole effort by the Avignon Presidency to run everything about the response to the 9-11 attacks off the books. Go shopping. You don't need to know why we're going to war, and we're going to lie to you about it anyway. Don't photograph the coffins. Don't count the dead. Keep the cost out of the federal budget and off television. If they didn't need the children of ordinary people to die to get what they want, they might have been able to turn the whole thing into a gated community of the soul. And now, nobody's paying attention, and nobody's angry when the people who get paid to pay attention run around yelling about Eliot Spitzer's banging hookers and the latest blurp from a crotchety old fool like Geraldine Ferraro. Also this week, the Pentagon went out of its way to bury the news that it's own study has concluded that one of the primary casus belli -- the Iraq-al Qaeda connection -- was the moonshine that several previous studies said it was. The news dropped with a thud and life went on. The country was told, in a hundred different ways, not to care about this war -- or, really, the one in Afghanistan, either -- and it has learned the lesson all too well. I don't know how I'd feel if I were a soldier, or the father of one. But this country is nowhere near as balls-out angry as it ought to be, and none of the contending candidates seem willing or able to become the vehicle of righteous democratic-small-d rage. I don't want to come together with these people. I want them in irons until they tell me where my country went.

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

While I am pleased by the proliferation of news stories in the wake of the Eliot Spitzer debacle that cast light on how horrifying prostitution is for the prostitutes, I am troubled by somewhat cavalier comments about it from some quarters.

The other day your nemesis Alan Dershowitz showed up on CNN and in the NYTimes to defend his old friend Spitzer (they worked together to spring Claus von Bulow back in the day). Dershowitz said:

"Men go to prostitutes -- big deal, that's not a story in most parts of the world. ... Prostitutes aren't victims -- they're getting paid a thousand dollars an hour. ..."

Now wait just a minute, Professor Dershowitz. Just because a client pays $1,000 per hour does not mean the prostitute is paid $1,000 per hour. Let's get real here. We are not talking about independent business people. Nor does an arrangement with a firm like the one Spitzer frequented mean that the prostitute does not get beaten up, imprisoned, raped, tortured, and threatened by her bosses. And that's not just because it's illegal and underground.

Regardless of its state of legality or toleration, prostitution is overwhelmingly and acutely dangerous, degrading, and exploitative. Working at Wal-Mart is hard, thankless, and exploitative. But it's absurd to compare other forms of labor with prostitution. The threat of violence alone makes prostitution special.

And what does Dershowitz understand about prostitution in "most parts of the world"? The global prostitution industry is one of the most horrifying phenomena of our age. "Sex tourism" ruins children's lives and deepens the disrespect that rich business men (whether from Japan, Australia, India or elsewhere) show for all women. The widespread toleration of prostitution that rich men have for each others' habits of engaging in this practice reveals just how far we have to go even in this country to get men to respect the basic dignity of women.

So, unlike you, I am prepared to judge harshly Spitzer and anyone who uses prostitutes. Using prostitutes is morally repugnant because it feeds a cruel and corrupt system. It puts money into the hands of the worst people in the world. And legalizing it does not change that.

The Netherlands only legalized brothels in 2000 after decades of "tolerating" prostitution in that peculiar Dutch fashion. But it only took less than eight years for Amsterdam city leaders and public health activists to begin to regret that decision. More than ever, and largely because of legalization, the Red Light district in Amsterdam is being overrun by global organized crime rings and horrifying cases of human trafficking. The worst global criminal syndicates have found the Netherlands a comfortable place to do business. They are not softening their habits and tactics. They are just pushing their resources to a place where they are less likely to pay the tax that is the threat of law enforcement. Amsterdam is rapidly changing its laws and policies about prostitutes because the Dutch realize it's pretty much slavery -- at least indentured servitude. The crime and violence exists whether it's legal or not. In fact, not having blanket laws covering the practice makes it harder to crack down on abusers.

Minor disclosure: I have spent a lot of time in recent years in and around the University of Amsterdam, which borders the Red Light District. And I have seen the neighborhood deteriorate rapidly. So I approach this issue with the fervor of a neighborhood activist as much as a feminist.

So while we are never going to be rid of this industry, we can do all we can to make it less attractive as a business and safer as an occupation. The key to cleaning up sex work is to critically acknowledge its place in society and use every tool possible to keep the workers safe, healthy, and free to leave. That means prosecuting both clients and bosses -- and prostitutes on occasion. Legalizing prostitution dodges problems as much as moralizingly ignoring it does.

We rarely take seriously violence against women, whether systematic or individual. It's amazing to me that we still willingly throw money at rapists like Mike Tyson, Gary Glitter, or Roman Polanski. Prostitution, like most forms of sexual exploitation, relies on violence and coercion. It's time we confronted it with clear, open eyes and fewer smirks and winks.

Name: Sean Fisher
Hometown: Milpitas, CA

Eric,

I do not think Ms. Ferraro's comments were intended to provoke racial fears -- the relative obscurity of the paper in which they appeared (the Daily Breeze of Torrance?) would seem to affirm this viewpoint. I believe she was trying to make a legitimate argument and articulated it badly. Consider my version of her controversial paragraph:

"As a man of multi-racial parentage, Obama is an embodiment of what America's future will be. If Obama were white, he would not excite the electorate to the same degree and likely would not have gotten to this position. And if he were a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is at a time when the country is caught up in the concept of a post-racial future."

What has been missing from too much of this Democratic primary is a charitable interpretation of the other side's motives. Both Clinton and Obama are exciting candidates who arouse strong passion in their supporters. This should always be kept in mind before we ascribe any sort of vileness (such as racism or sexism) to their character.

Name: Richard Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

Anyone can go to the U.S. Joint Forces Command website and request a copy of the report which the Bush administration would prefer to see buried.

Ask for a copy of "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents" and it will be sent on a CD. All you have to do is provide them with a mailing address (I gave them a P.O. Box address -- one can't be too careful nowadays). I made my request yesterday and received a confirmation e-mail today.

Perhaps if they get bombarded with requests they will reconsider their decision not to make it more readily available.

Name: Brian Costello
Hometown: Los Angeles

I wanted to pass along some information about Loyola Law School's third annual Journalist Law School, set for June 18-21. It's a competitive fellowship that gives 35 journalists each year the opportunity to gain an in-depth knowledge of the law.

Courses range from legal essentials -- criminal, civil and constitutional law -- to niche topics like the Law of War. Fellows have the opportunity to customize their experience by selecting their own breakout sessions. Seventy journalists have graduated from the JLS since its inception in 2006. Complete details and an application are available online here.

I encourage you to pass this along to colleagues you think might be interested in this. And if possible, it would be great if you could post this on your blog. The application deadline is March 24.

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